When to keep, when to toss an old tie

When to keep, when to toss an old tie

Q. I have way too many ties in my closet, but when I try to cull them down, I am always caught by worries that older ones will come back in style. I also have ones I wear once a year (Christmas or Valentine’s Day). Is there a way to know what won’t ever be stylish again?

A. Generally, the answer is no – in the pendulum of style, almost anything may return – but that thinking leads to hoarding. You are right to try to reduce to a manageable  number and I can certainly help with that. Here are some basics on what not to keep and some tenets of what else to move on from. 


  • Anything that is not in perfect shape — if you have enough ties, then there is no reason to keep ones that are stained or damaged. They reflect poorly on you and will make you self-conscious all day. If you have a tie you would absolutely keep if it were in perfect shape, then I’ll provide advice below.*
  • Ties you don’t love. Why keep them? If there are some you feel work for certain occasions or match with certain items but they are not favorites, bring them to a fine men’s shop, explain your thoughts, and have them suggest replacements .. . then toss.
  • Ties you are not comfortable with because you do not know how to match. Again you might ask the salesperson to suggest shirts, etc. that match with them. If you already have those, you have an answer, or you can buy them. But, if you won’t wear them . . . then toss. 
  • Ties that never receive a compliment or often receive a questionable comment (“How interesting”).
  • Ties you haven’t worn in more than a year. If those Christmas/Valentine’s ties are ones you are known to wear AND known positively for, then maybe keep them. However, any nice red tie can cover both of those occasions. 
  • Ties that are out of style and not returning soon – This is the crux of your question – what won’t return soon?
    • Too-wide ties. The finest ties in the world, those from Hermès, have maintained a standard width for years – 2.76 inches to 3.15 inches. In other words, the best width is very close to three inches. Again, see below if your tie is perfect except for its width,
    • o  Too-narrow ties. Super skinny ties under 2½ inches wide look as if you’re trying too hard to look young and cool. 
    • o  “Harry” ties. A tie should be able to be identified by having a name. Examples are: solid, pindot, polka dot, stripe, foulard, club, and geometric. A tie called “Harry” is not good enough!

Other examples of old styles that won’t return soon include:

  • Ties with oversized, flashy patterns that look more like a modern wall painting than an all-over “neat” print. 
  • Ties made of polyester are examples of old-style ties to avoid. 
  • And there was a time when men wore goofy fish-shaped ties. Not now!
  • You probably should not wear a bowtie to the office, unless you are an English professor. 

BUT, the following, if they are favorites styles, might return soon or have already returned. So these are potentially worth keeping:

  • In addition to the typical diagonal stripes, some men are wearing ties with horizontal stripes for a different look.
  • Ties with textured fabric such as wool ties and knit ties. Some men have always worn these, but often they have not been easy to find.  
  • Solid-color ties are far easier to coordinate than patterns. Three versatile colors to own are navy, black, and burgundy.  

Final review based on quantity
Once you have cleared the ties that you should discard based on the reasons above, the next questions is how many ties should you have? For most clothes, closet space is an element to consider. But ties require so little storage space that you can ignore that element and keep whatever you like. While you may keep more than you need, knowing a reasonable minimum and how those should break down, will further help in your culling.

  • If you wear 3-5+ ties per week, it makes sense to own solid-colors in different fabrics: For dressy occasions, solid-color heavy silks work well; and to go with sweaters and busy-patterned casual shirts such as plaids and checks, solid-color knits in wool or cotton look great.  
  • If you wear a few ties a month, it’s logical to keep several dressy silks, a few regimental stripes, and a couple of small “neat” patterns or geometrics. 
  • If you only wear a few ties a year, at least keep two dressy silks, a few classic stripes, and something bright and colorful for more relaxed, fun dressing.  

What I don’t want to do is push any man toward eliminating ties from his wardrobe. A tie is perhaps the best way to add color to your outfit. Men’s clothes offer very few opportunities to insert color, but ties are a great way to do so. If you have blue eyes and want to emphasize that, wear a lot of blue ties. If your favorite color is red, be sure to include a few of those shades, and if you have fair coloring and enjoy wearing tan, khaki, and browns, you might like to include a stylish yellow or orangey-red tie in your collection.

A tie can accent your strengths, reduce what you see as a flaw, and present the best you. Ties shouldn’t overflow your closet, cause you stress, or make you look out of date. 

* Even though I suggested discarding ties that are worn or stained, you may have a favorite that is worth restoring. Especially now that fine ties have become so expensive, it can be well worth the cost. Your average dry cleaner is not up to the task. But Tiecrafters, a shop in New York, that has been in business for decades, cleans ties, alters and narrows them when fashions change for customers all around the world, You can deal with them through the mail. 1232 Second Ave. New York, NY 10065, or call 212-867-7676. 

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

Categories: Male Call